Isaac & Jacob Isaacson: The Original Jewish Pioneer Brothers of Isaacson/Nogales, Arizona Territory

Isaac & Jacob Isaacson of Isaacson/Nogales, Arizona Territory

Values Codes  I – E – L

Isaac & Jacob Isaacson were born in Gulding, Russia; Isaac in 1851 and his brother Jacob in 1853.

Isaac Isaacson arrived in New York via London according to Nogales, Arizona: Life and Times on the Frontier, by Jane Eppinga.

He arrived in San Francisco via Chicago in 1879.


Along the way . . . 

Isaac Isaacson partnered with Samuel Graaff in a pawn brokerage.

He then spent time as an itinerant peddler, traveling with his brother, Jacob Isaacson.


Arizona Territory

Isaac and Jacob Isaacson arrived on the border of Arizona and Mexico in 1880.

From 1880 to 1883, the little settlement was known as Isaacson, Arizona.

The US Postal service renamed the city Nogales in 1883.

As the story goes . . .

“The Mexicans couldn’t pronounce Isaacson.  It kept coming out ‘Eez-ah-ockson.’   So what stands there now . . . an urban monument, as it were, to the burro’s role in 19th century Western commerce . . . is the town we know as Nogales (Spanish for ‘walnuts’).”  Arizona Highways, February, 1978


Jacob Isaacson became the Postmaster.

Jacob Isaacson

Jacob Isaacson

“With knowledge that there would be a railroad junction there shortly, Isaac Isaacson homesteaded a plot of land upon which the two brothers built a mud hut which became the first store.” — Judge Melvin E. Cohn, grandson

Isaac Isaacson opened I. Isaacson, General Merchandise, as listed in the business directory 1882.

In 1883, Isaac moved to Los AngelesHe left his property in Arizona to someone other than his brother.

In Los Angeles he opened a loan office-pawn shop at 409 No. Main Street where he also lived.

In 1890’s he moved to San Francisco opening The Phoenix Assay Office in 1898, and then a second-hand goods store.

Jacob Isaacson, photo sent by family

Isaac Isaacson in front of his San Francisco shop,
photo sent by family



Sometime between 1883 and 1898, Isaac Isaacson married Emma “Mollie” Rosenbecker in Los Angeles.

Isaac & "Molly" Isaacson and Children, Nogales, AZ

Isaac & “Molly” Isaacson and Children, Nogales, AZ


They had four children: 2 boys and 2 girls.

Their first son was Samuel Isaacson.



Their grandson is Retired California Superior Court, Judge Melvin E. Cohn.

Isaac Isaacson passed away in 1926,  in San Francisco

Isaac and Mollie are buried in the Home of Peace Cemetery in Colma, south of San Francisco.


Jacob Isaacson married Bessie, a Californian.

Together they had four children, three of which were: Lee, born in California; Flossie, born in Oregon; and Henrietta, born in California (the great-grandmother of Joyce Feldman, who supplied this exhibit with much information).

Samuel Isaacson, Son of Jacob Isaacson

Samuel Isaacson, First Son of Isaac Isaacson

“Isaac Isaacson was an unusual pioneer, the only person I ever hear of that was burned out by the Chicago Fire in 1871 and the San Francisco earthquake-fire in 1906.”

— Judge Melvin E. Cohn, grandson


From the recollections of Betty Jones Ottley, granddaughter of Isaac Isaacson:

Grandpa Isaacson was my grandfather on my father’s side.  He was a gentle and kind man.  He ran a pawnshop in downtown San Francisco where he enjoyed the friendships of many people from all walks of life.  Everyone loved Isaac Isaacson!  My maternal grandmother took me to visit his shop and he gave me a locket with two small rubies in it which I still have.  He liked to give chocolate bars to my brother and  me with the caution, ‘Take a little bite at a time and suck it until it’s gone before taking another bite.’  I never eat chocolate without thinking about his counsel to us about how to eat chocolate.”

From How I discovered the Man Who Discovered Nogales, by Terence Ted Healy:Quoting Jacob Isaacson after he had left Nogales 26 years prior:

“Isaacson…oh, I forgot, Nogales, …will enjoy a building boom within the near future.  Within one year it will be the border terminal of one of the greatest railroad systems in the land, and you know what that means to any city so located.  It grew out of a little merchandising store I conducted.”

Healy, “Thus is recorded a little of the life story of the type of men who made Arizona . . . the men whose names shall be emblazoned across the honor roll of the territory . . . the men who possess the right to be called pioneers.”

1900 US Census showing Jacob Isaacsons & family.

1900 US Census showing Jacob Isaacson’s & family.



Norton B. Stern and William M. Kramer, “Who was Isaacson, Arizona Named For?” Western States Jewish History 19/2.


Nogales, After Turn of Century After Name Change from "Isaacson," and After the Isaacson's had Left Town. Postcard

Nogales at the turn of the 20th century, after the name was changed from “Isaacson,” and after the Isaacson’s had Left Town. Old Postcard

Regina Merwin is curator of this Isaac Isaacson exhibit.

Joyce Feldman, great-granddaughter of Jacob Isaacson sent us the picture of Jacob Isaacson and the 1900 U.S. Census document.

Linda Empey, great-granddaughter of Isaac Issacson, has added that there were 2 sons. The one not in the family photo was in Utah at that time. [see picture of Sam above.] “Thank you for spending the time to make the Jewish Museum of the American West a living document honoring our past.”  Linda Empey